GELDER, Aert de
(b. 1645, Dordrecht, d. 1727, Dordrecht)

Esther and Mordecai

1685
Oil on canvas, 93 x 149 cm
Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest

Aert de Gelder was one of Rembrandt's last pupils and continued to work in the spirit and style of his master long after other pupils, for instance, Maes, Gerbrand van den Eeckhout and Jan Lievens, had succumbed to the fashionable trend towards smooth and perfunctory painting. He painted large compositions with two or three figures, mostly based on the Old Testament subjects so favoured by Rembrandt. Like his master, he loved rich properties and colourful draperies - the eighteenth-century historiographer Van Houbraken records that his studio was a veritable gallery of antiques, full of ancient weapons, silks and all kinds of utensils - and he used manikins for the sake of greater authenticity, carefully dressing them to suit the requirements of his theme. He painted with broad strokes of the brush, as Rembrandt had, and created warm tonalities and colour harmonies.

Esther and Mordecai, dating from 1685, is one of de Gelder's most valuable and characteristic works. The Old Testament book of Esther is summarized here into a single dramatic moment, the internal tension being conveyed through the structure of the composition and through the gestures. The painting depicts the scene of the Biblical story when Mordecai, foster-father of Esther persuades the Queen to induce her husband to save the Jewish people.

De Gelder painted several versions of this subject differing in various degrees; the version now in the Providence Museum of Art, Rhode Island, also depicting half-length figures, is particularly close to the painting in Budapest.